Balaam

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Fausset's Bible Dictionary [1]

(Hebrew Balam ) "not of the people" (Israel), a "foreigner"; else Bilam , "the destroyer of the people," corresponding to the Greek Νicolaos , "conqueror of the people" ( Revelation 2:14-15), namely, by having seduced them to fornication with the Moabite women (Numbers 25), just as the Nicolaitanes sanctioned the eating of things sacrificed to idols and fornication. The -Am , however, may be only a formative syllable. He belonged to Pethor, a city of Aram Naharaim, i.e. Mesopotamia ( Deuteronomy 23:4). "Balak, the king of Moab" (he says,  Numbers 23:7), "hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the E.," a region famous for soothsayers ( Isaiah 2:6). Pethor, from Pathar , "to reveal," was the head quarters of oriental magi, who used to congregate in particular spots ( Daniel 2:2;  Matthew 2:1), Phathusae, S. of Circesium. It is an undesigned propriety, which marks the truth of Scripture, that it represents Balak of Moab, the descendant of Lot, as having recourse to a diviner of the land from which Lot came when he accompanied Abraham to Canaan.

It was a practice of ancient nations to devote their enemies to destruction at the beginning of their wars; the form of execration is preserved in Macrobius, Saturnalia, 3:9. The traditional knowledge of the true God lingered among the descendants of Laban and Bethuel. Abimelech of Gerar, Melchizedek, Job, Jethro, are all instances of the truth that knowledge of the one true God was not restricted to Abraham's descendants. Balaam was son of Beor. The same name (omitting the last part, -Am , of Balaam), Bela, (and he also "son of Beor," front Baar , to "burn up,) occurs among the Edomites connected with Midian by a victory recorded in  Genesis 36:32-37; also with the "river" Euphrates through Saul of Rehoboth which was on it, king of Edom. Now Balaam is mentioned in conjunction with the five kings of Midian ( Numbers 31:8;  Numbers 31:16).

A dynasty of Balaam's ancestors from near the great river probably reigned once over Edom. Moab in his application to him was not alone. "Moab was sore afraid ... because of the children of Israel, and Moab said unto the elders of Midian, Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field" (how natural the image in the mouth of a shepherd king, as "the king of Moab was a sheep master,"  2 Kings 3:4). So "the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand." It is natural that Balaam, living amidst idolaters, should, like Laban of old in the same region ( Genesis 31:20), have been somewhat tainted. Hence, while owning Jehovah for his God and following patriarchal tradition ( Job 42:8, who is thought by the decipherers of the Assyrian and Babylonian monuments to have lived in the region about the mouth of the Euphrates, Uz, the early seat of the first Babylonian empire) in offering victims by sevens.

Balaam had recourse to "enchantments" also, so that he is called "the soothsayer" ( Joshua 13:22) ( Ha - Kosem , distinguished, from the true prophet,  Isaiah 3:2), a practice denounced as "an abomination to the Lord" ( Deuteronomy 18:10;  Deuteronomy 18:12). In the portion that follows ( Numbers 22:7-24) no further mention of Midian occurs, but only of Moab. But after Balaam's vain effort to curse, and God's constraining him to bless, Israel, "he went and returned to his place" ( Numbers 24:14;  Numbers 24:25). He had said: "Behold, I go unto my people." But then follows (Numbers 25) Israel's whoredom, not only with Moabite women but also with Midianite women, of whom Cozbi, daughter of Zur (slain by Phinehas. with Zimri her paramour), was principal; and in  Numbers 31:8;  Numbers 31:16, Israel's slaughter of the Midianites with their five kings (Zur was one), and also of Balaam, son of Beor, because of his "counsel." Beside those kings that fell in battle, Israel slew five Midianite kings and executed Balaam judicially after the battle ( Numbers 31:8).

So after all Balaam did not return as he had said, to his own place, Mesopotamia. Dismissed by the Moabites in dissatisfaction, He suffered his mind to dwell on the honors and riches which he had lost by blessing Israel, and so instead of going home he turned to the Midianites, who were joined with Moab in the original application to him. Availing himself of his head knowledge of divine truth, he, like Satan in Eden, used it with fiendish wisdom to break the union between God and Israel by tempting the latter to sin by lust. They fell into his trap: but staying among the Midianites, who doubtless rewarded with mammon his hellish counsel which succeeded so fatally against Israel, he in turn fell into the righteous judgment executed by Moses and Israel on his guilty patrons, Israel's seducers. The undesigned dovetailing together of these scattered incidents into such a harmonious whole is a strong confirmation of the truth of the Scripture history.

In  Numbers 22:12, at the first inquiry of Balaam, God said, "Thou shalt not go with them, thou shalt not curse the people." Balaam acquiesced, although in language betraying the revolt of his covetous will against God's will he told Balak's princes, "Jehovah refuseth to give me leave to go with you." Hence, instead of going back to Pethor, he begs them to tarry another night to see "what Jehovah will say unto him more." In the very moment of saying "I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God," he tempts the Lord as if He might change His purpose, and allow him to earn "the wages of iniquity"; yet himself, with strange inconsistency, such as marks those who "hold the truth in unrighteousness" ( Romans 1:18), declares what condemns his perverse thought, "God is not a man that He should lie, nor the Son of man that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it, or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?" ( Numbers 23:19.)

God did come that night, and seems to contradict His former command, "If the men come to call thee, rise up and go with them." But God' s unchangeable principle is, with the pure to show Himself pure ( Psalms 18:26), with the froward to show Himself froward. He at first speaks plainly to the conscience His will; if the sinner resists the voice of His Spirit and His word He "answers the fool according to his folly," and "gives him up to his own desire" ( Psalms 78:29-30; compare  Romans 1:25-26;  Romans 1:28;  Proverbs 1:31); after long resistance by man, God's Spirit ceases to strive with him ( Genesis 6:3). Balaam rose up in the morning, and it is not written he waited for the "men to come and call" him. Certainly, "God's anger was kindled because he went"; for his going was in spite of the former plain prohibition; and the second voice was a permission giving him up in judicial anger to his own perversity (compare  1 Kings 22:15), a permission too resting on the condition, which Balaam did not wait for, "if the men come to call thee."  Judges 1:11 saith the "error of Balaam" was his" running greedily for reward."

The apostle Peter ( 2 Peter 2:15) says, "Balaam the son of Bosor" (the same as Beor; Bosor is akin to Basar , "flesh," and Balaam showed himself the "son of carnality." Bosor is probably the Aramaic or Chaldee equivalent of Beor, Τsade ( צ ) being submitted for 'Αyin ( ע ). Peter residing at Babylon would naturally adopt the name usual in the Aramaic tradition) "loved the wages of unrighteousness: but was rebuked for his iniquity, the mute (voiceless) donkey, speaking with man's voice, forbad the madness of the prophet": an awful contrast, a dumb beast forbidding an inspired prophet. The donkey turned aside at the sight of the angel; but Balaam, after God had said "thou shalt not go," persevered in wishing to go for gain. Not what the donkey said, but its speaking at all, withstood his perversity. The donkey indirectly, the angel directly, rebuked his worse than asinine obstinacy.

The miracle, the object of the infidel's scoff, has a moral fitness which stamps its truth. He who made the cursing prophet bless could make an ass, His own creature, speak ( Nehemiah 13:2;  Joshua 24:9-10). The "seer" lacks the spiritual eye to discern the angel of the Lord, because it was blinded by lust of riches and honor. God opens the mouth of the irrational brute to show the seer his blindness in not seeing what even the brute could see. Even a beast can discern the spiritual world better than a man blinded by lust. Balaam's worse than brutish mind must be taught by the. brute, in order to chastize his vainly. Not until after the Lord opened the donkey's mouth is it written that" his eyes were opened" ( Numbers 24:3-4), whereas they had been "shut" (margin): "falling" refers to his falling with his donkey (not as KJV: "into a trance") and then having his eyes "opened."

No more efficient agent than Balaam could have been chosen to testify to his friends, Israel's enemies, the hopelessness of their conflict with the people whom Jehovah marks as His own. This famed diviner, brought to curse, blesses; lured by love of gain which depended on his cursing, he contradicts his own nature by forfeiting the promised gain, to bless a people from whom he expected no gain. A master of enchantments, he confesses "there is no enchantment (which can avail) against Jacob, neither any divination against Israel" ( Numbers 23:23). The miracle wrought on him, whereby he belied his whole nature, is greater than that wrought on the ass. This truth moreover came with more weight, from him than from any other, and this publicly before a king and a whole people, the most esteemed soothsayer in spite of himself proclaiming Israel's blessedness.

Balak first feasted Balaam at Kirjath Huzoth, a place of reputed sanctity on the borders. Thence Balaam was taken to "the high places ( Bamot ) of Baal," called Beth Bamoth in the Moabite stone. Thence to Pisgah's top by the field of Zophim. Thence to Peor's top looking toward Jeshimon. Then Balaam, seeing God's determinate counsel, stopped seeking further enchantments, but looking at Israel in their beautiful order by tribes, he compares them to the rows of lign aloes and cedars by the waters, and foretells the advent of a Hebrew prince who should smite Moab and Edom (David, 2 Samuel 8, the type), and of the Messiah, the Star out of Jacob" (compare  Revelation 22:16; Matthew 2, announced to the Gentile wise men from the E., Balaam's country, by the star in the sky) whose "scepter shall have dominion" ( Revelation 2:27-28;  Psalms 110:2; He shall restore "the scepter departed from Judah,"  Genesis 49:10).

Balaam foretold also (See Amalek 'S utter ruin; the Kenites' being carried captive by Assyria; and Assyria in its turn being afflicted by the Greeks and Romans from Chittim (Cyprus, put for all western lands whence the approach to Palestine was by sea); and these, the last destroying power, in turn, "shall perish for ever" before Messiah's kingdom. "Eber," who was to be "afflicted" by Assyria, includes Eber's descendants through Peleg, and also through Joktan; the western Semites, sprung from Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram ( Genesis 10:21). Balaam's prophecy is a comprehensive germ, which Isaiah and the prophets, especially Daniel, develop, concerning the four successive world empires which, after their successive rise and fall, shall be superseded by the universal and everlasting kingdom of Messiah (Daniel 2; 7).

Jacob saw the dominion of the victorious Lion out of Judah attaining its perfection in Shiloh's (the Prince of peace) peaceful reign. Balaam, in the face of Israel's foes seeking to destroy her, declares that it is they who shall be destroyed. Appropriately the seer that God appoints to announce this belonged to Mesopotamia, the center of the great world powers whose doom he foretells, as rebels against Jehovah's purpose concerning Israel and Israel's Messianic king (Psalm 2). As a Judas was among the apostles, so Balaam among the prophets, a true seer but a bad man; at the transition to the Mosaic from the patriarchal age witnessing to the truth in spite of himself, as Caiaphas did at the transition from the legal to the Christian dispensation. Head knowledge without heart sanctification increases one's condemnation. Making "godliness a source of gain" is the damning sin of all such as Balaam and Simon Magus:  1 Timothy 6:5 (Greek).

In  Micah 6:5 ("O My people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beer answered him from Shittim)," the sense is, Remember the fatal effects at Shittim of Israel's joining Baal Peer and committing whoredom with the daughters of Moab, and how but for God's sparing mercy Israel would have been given to utter destruction. Like Judas and Ahithophel, Balaam set in motion the train of events which entailed his own destruction. Balak's summons was the crisis in his history, bringing him into contact with God's people and so giving him the possibility of nearer communion with God than before. Trying to combine prophecy and soothsaying, the service of God and the wages of iniquity, he made the choice that ruined him for ever! He wanted to do opposite things at once, to curse and to bless ( James 3:10-12), to earn at once the wages of righteousness and unrighteousness, if possible not to offend God, yet not to lose Balak's reward.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [2]

This was the famous, or rather infamous conjuror of the East, whose awful history is so fully recorded in the book of Numbers, and whose most awful end is given to us in the 31chapter of the same book, and 8th verse.  Numbers 31:8 (See also  Joshua 13:22) His name, it should seem, is derived from Balel, and signifies old age. For his history, I refer the reader to  Numbers 20:1-29 and the two following chapters. In relation to the character of Balaam, it will be proper for me to beg the reader's attention to what the word of God hath left upon record concerning him, in order to have a clear apprehension of the subject; comparing Scripture with Scripture, as we are commanded to do,  1 Corinthians 2:13.

It appears from the accounts given of Balaam, in the opening of his history, ( Numbers 22:1, etc.) that Balak, prince of Moab, fearful of the growing power of Israel, invited this Balaam from the East, to come to Moab and to use enchantments against Israel. It should seem from the history of Egypt, in the magicians we read of in that history, that this custom of using enchantments among idolatrous nations, was very common. ( Exodus 7:11) Prompted by the love of gain, Balaam readily listened to the messengers of Balak, and lodged them for the night, pretending that he would conconsult the Lord upon the subject, and go with them if permitted. But the Lord commanding him not to go, for that the people, the prince of Moab wished him to curse, were blessed; Balaam sent the messengers away, without going with them. We are not informed by what means the Lord communicated to Balaam his command: probably by a vision of the night; but, certainly, in such a way as left Balaam with full impressions on his mind, had he not heard the history of Israel before, that they were "a people blessed of the Lord."

Balak, not discouraged by Balaam's refusal, sent again to him: and the wretch, earnest to go, pretended again to ask the Lord's leave. And the sequel of this embassy from Balak was, that he arose and went. There seems to occur some little difficulty in the relation, as given in the Bible concerning Balaam's going; because it is said by the Lord, If the men come to call thee, arise and go. But the thing had been determined before by the Lord's telling Balaam, that the people were blessed. How then could he dare to tempt the Lord by any farther enquiry? and how could he presume to go forth, at the call of this idolatrous prince, to curse those whom the Lord had told him were blessed? We cannot but suppose that Balaam, coming out of the East, must have heard of Israel, and the Lord's care over them. Indeed his pretending to consult the Lord, at the first invitation of Balak, very fully proves, that he was no stranger to the history of Israel; and the Lord's bringing them out of Egypt, which all the people of the East had heard of with trembling. ( Exodus 15:14, etc.) So that Balaam could not be ignorant of the Lord's love for Israel.

But what decides the infamy of Balaam's character is this, that under all the impressions that the Lord had blessed Israel, and would bless them, Balaam was still so very earnest to oblige Balak, and get his promised reward, that he set off expressly the purpose of cursing Israel; neither, as the apostle saith, did "the dumb ass, speaking with man's voice, forbidding the madness of the prophet," keep back his feet from the evil of his journey; so much did he love the wages of unrighteousness? (See  2 Peter 2:16)

I need not go through with a comment on the several interesting particulars of Balaam's tampering with his conscience while with Balak, in seeking enchantments, and in using every effort to curse God's people, while all he said and did the Lord over-ruled to make him bless them. But there is one feature in the history and character of this man, which will serve to explain the whole; and to shew, that when disappointed of all the means he had used to gratify Balak, though compelled by a power he could not resist, to bless those he wished to curse; yet he gave Balak an advice concerning Israel, by way of accomplishing their ruin, which, but for the Lord's preventing and pardoning grace, would indeed have tended to the ruin of Israel more than all Balak's arms, or Balaam's enchantments; namely, in counseling Balak to tempt Israel to come to the sacrifices, and to open an intercourse of Israel's sons with the daughters of Moab. This plan, therefore, Balak adopted; and soon after we find Israel at the feast of their infamous sacrifices. The Psalmist, speaking of this sad history, ( Psalms 106:28-29) saith, "they joined themselves unto Baal-peor, and did eat the sacrifices of the dead." This Baal-peor was an obscene idol, before which image, the votaries offered the most horrid prostitution of their bodies, and wrought such abomination as would be shocking to the feelings of chastity to relate. (See Baal-peor. See  Numbers 25:1-18 throughout.)

We should not have known that it was from the advice of Balaam, the Moabites enticed Israel to sin, in the matter of Baal-peor, had not the Holy Ghost graciously informed us of it, in his holy word. But, if the reader will turn to the second chapter of Revelations, and read the fourteenth verse, there the whole matter is explained. (See also  Numbers 31:15-16)

The awful termination of the life of Balaam is just as might be expected. I refer the reader to the Scripture account of it. ( Numbers 31:8) How Balaam came to be amongst the Midianites when the Lord's judgments overtook them, is not said; for we are told, in the former history, ( Numbers 24:25) that he rose up and went unto his place. Probably, he returned afterwards to live with the Midianites, to see if he might be farther helpful to them by his enchantments. And, perhaps, as Balak had promised to reward him with very great honours, he might have quitted his home, in the east of Aram, to be made a prince among the Midianites. But be this as it may, here he was, by the overruling power and providence of God, when Moab and Midian were destroyed; and fell with, them, unpitied, and with infamy on his name for ever.

We must not close our view of Balaam, without a short observation of the awfulness of such a character. When we read the many blessed things which the Lord, as he had graciously said, compelled Balaam to utter concerning his Israel, "the word that I shall speak unto thee, (said the Lord) that thou shalt speak." ( Numbers 22:20-35) When we hear this impious man's confession, that "he had heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the Most High; had seen the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open." ( Numbers 24:15-16) When we hear such things dropping from his lips, and in the same moment hiring himself out for the honours of this world, as an enchanter, to curse the people of God, whom God had told him were blessed; what an awful picture doth this afford of human depravity! Many of God's dear children, from mistaken views of such characters, have been frequently tempted to call in question their own sincerity, and to fear, lest like Balaam, they should be found apostates in the end. But all this from the misapprehension of things, and not from the smallest likeness between their circumstances and Balaam's. There may be, and indeed there often is, a natural apprehension which natural men often have, concerning divine things, where there is no one work of the Lord upon the heart. Men, by reading, or by hearing, may acquire great knowledge in the truths of God, so as to speak and discourse, as Balaam did very sweetly on the subject; but whose souls never felt any love of God, nor desire of salvation. This is head knowledge, not heart influence. This is all nature, not grace. Devils know more, in point of doctrine and the truths of Jesus, to their eternal sorrow, than many of God's dear children do, to their eternal joy, while here below. Witness what they said,  Luke 4:41. at a time when his people were, many of them, ignorant of him. How shall we mark the difference? The thing is very easy, under the blessed Spirits teaching; "when the Spirit witnesseth to our spirits that we are his children." There is a pleasure, a delight, an holy joy, in the soul of the regenerated, in the view of Christ and his salvation. Not all the riches of the earth would tempt such to curse the people of God, or even to hear the people of God cursed, but with the utmost indignation. In their darkest hours, and under the dullest of their frames, there is still a secret desire within to the love of Jesus, and the remembrance of his name, ( Isaiah 26:9) And while such as Balaam write their own mittimus for everlasting misery, as in those soul-piercing words, when speaking of Christ, "I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but not nigh;" ( Numbers 24:17) the hope and expectation of the poorest and humblest child of God is expressed in those sweet words, "As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness." ( Psalms 17:15)

There is one thing more I wish to drop a word of observation upon, respecting the history of Balaam. The reader will, probably, anticipate the circumstance to which I refer; namely, the conversation which Balaam held with his ass. I do not hesitate to say, that I wholly agree with St. Austin, and accept the fact simply as it is related, and believe it to have been a miracle of the Lord's. I form my opinion on the authority of the Holy Ghost, who, by his servant the apostle Peter, expressly saith, that "the dumb ass, speaking with man's voice, forbad the madness of the prophet." ( 2 Peter 2:16) The occasion was as extraordinary and interesting, as the event of the animal being so commissioned to reprove; and for such an occasion, as in numberless other instances in life, the ordinary appointments in the Lord's providences may be well supposed to be superseded. The only, or at least, the most striking circumstance in the whole relation is, the loss of the wonderful event on Balaam's mind, that he should have been so addressed, and give such an answer, and yet persist in his iniquitous journey. But even here again, similar effects on the minds of sinners, in every age, are continually produced, and the end is the same. What conviction was frequently wrought upon the minds of the Jews, when beholding the miracles of Christ. But yet, what lasting effect did that conviction ultimately produce! He who well knew the human heart, void of sovereign grace, hath left it upon record as an unerring conclusion, that where the word of God is despised and set at nought, no higher evidences, even of miracles, will succeed: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither would they be persuaded, though one should rise from the dead." ( Luke 16:31)

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]

BALAAM is the subject of a remarkable and intricate narrative in   Numbers 22:1-41;   Numbers 23:1-30;   Numbers 24:1-25 , connected with the arrival of Israel in the Promised Land, and the relationship of the chosen people to Moab and Ammon. Balaam was a soothsayer of Pethor on the Euphrates, called by Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Israelites, who were lying encamped in the Jordan valley. He had difficulty in undertaking the task, and he found, whenever he essayed to curse Israel, that the Lord had forbidden him to do so, and that his burden must be blessing instead. At the request of Balak he changed his position again and again on the heights above the Dead Sea, in the hope of obtaining a different oracle, but the message he had to deliver remained the same, and he foretold the future splendour of Israel (  Numbers 24:2 ff.). Sent away by Balak without the reward promised to him if he would deliver an oracle adverse to Israel, he returned to his own land. According to one narrative, his end was full of shame. He was accused of having induced Israel to commit immorality in connexion with religious worship, a feature common in the Semitic nature-cults. It was through this charge that he became known to subsequent ages, and his name became a name of infamy (  Numbers 31:8; Num 31:16 ,   2 Peter 2:15 ,   Revelation 2:14; Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . VI. vi, 6). The inspiration of Balaam, contrasted with his subsequent sin and disgraceful death, his knowledge of the will of God, together with his intense desire to grasp the rewards of unrighteousness, have given rise to a notable sermon literature. Bishop Butler speaks of the self-deception by which he persuades himself that the sin he commits can be justified to conscience and to God; Newman regards him as an instance of the trouble that can come on a character, otherwise noble, when the thought of material advancement is always allowed to dwell with it; Arnold adduces him as an instance of the familiar truth that the purest form of religious belief may coexist with a standard of action immeasurably below it; F. W. Robertson makes him the text for a sermon on the perversion of gifts.

This complexity of character is, however, greatly simplified by the recognition of the various strata in the narrative. It is clear that the account of P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] connecting Balaam with Israel’s uncleanness has nothing to do with the original narrative. This original narrative is contained in  Numbers 22:1-41;   Numbers 23:1-30;   Numbers 24:1-25 . According to it, Balaam was a prophet of Pethor on the river Euphrates. His fame had spread across the wilderness, and, when Balak found himself in straits through the advance of Israel, he sent for Balaam to come and curse Israel. Balaam asked God whether he should go, and was refused permission. Balak therefore sent yet greater gifts, and once again Balaam asked counsel of God. This time permission was granted. So far there had been no indication of God’s displeasure; but now follows (  Numbers 22:22-34 ) the story of the ass, through which God’s anger at the refusal of the seer to accept His answer, given once and for all, is manifested. If, however, the reader will pass from   Numbers 22:21 to   Numbers 22:35 he will find that the narrative runs smoothly, and that he is still viewing Balaam’s character from the same not unfavourable standpoint (  Numbers 22:35 [cf.   Numbers 22:20-21 ] is the effort to join up the threads of the story after the interpolation). When Balaam is brought in sight of Israel, he breaks out into a burst of praise (  Numbers 24:5-9 ) which rouses the wrath of Balak. Balaam justifies himself by reminding the king that he had warned him of the constraint of the Lord (  Numbers 24:13 ). He then utters another oracle predicting the glory of Israel and the destruction of Moah and Ammon (  Numbers 24:17-19 ).

This analysis leaves out of account  Numbers 22:22-34;   Numbers 22:23 , which seem to belong to a narrative dealing with the same facts, but placing a more sinister interpretation on the conduct of Balaam. The story of the ass is plainly out of harmony with the narrative just outlined. It is a story belonging not to the wilderness, but to a land of vineyards. It ignores the embassy that has been sent to bring Balaam back across the wilderness (  Numbers 22:15;   Numbers 22:21 ), for it represents Balaam as travelling alone. It is also extremely unlikely that so long a journey as that from the Euphrates to Moab would be attempted upon an ass. Then ch. 23, with its elaborate building of altars and offering of sacrifices, seems to belong to a later date; while the constant shifting of position in the effort to secure a more favourable oracle presents Balaam in a much more unfavourable light than before. Although the details of this analysis are not certain, we may take it that the original story proceeds from J [Note: Jahwist.] , and that the second narrative, more complicated both in psychology and ritual, is from E [Note: Elohist.] .

The narrative of P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ascribing the sin of Baal-peor to Balaam is out of touch with both the other narratives. According to it, Balaam was a Midianitish seer who tried to bring about the ruin of Israel, in default of other means, by persuading them to give way to lust ( Numbers 31:8;   Numbers 31:16 , Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . VI. 6. 6). ‘It has been conjectured that this story arose partly out of a difficulty on the part of the priestly narrator in conceiving of a heathen being an inspired prophet of God, partly from the need of accounting for the great sin of the Israelites’ ( DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] I. 233 a ). Balaam thus seems to have fallen in the estimation of Israel from being a seer of alien race, who distinguished himself by his faithfulness to the truth he knew, to becoming synonymous with temptation of a kind that was always especially insidious for Israel.

R. Bruce Taylor.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [4]

a prophet of the city of Pethor, or Bosor, upon the Euphrates, whose intercourse with Balak, king of the Moabites, who sent for him to curse the Israelites, is recorded at large by Moses, Numbers 22-24. It has been a subject of controversy, whether Balaam was a true prophet or a mere diviner, magician, or fortune teller. Origen says that his whole power consisted in magic and cursing. Theodoret is of opinion that Balaam did not consult the Lord, but that he was supernaturally inspired, and constrained to speak against his own inclination. Cyril says that he was a magician, an idolater, and a false prophet, who spoke truth against his will; and St. Ambrose compares him to Caiaphas, who prophesied without being aware of the import of what he said. Jerom seems to have adopted the opinion of the Hebrews; which was, that Balaam knew the true God, erected altars to him, and that he was a true prophet, though corrupted by avarice,  Numbers 22:18 . St. Austin and other commentators have inclined to this opinion. Dr. Jortin supposes that Balaam was a worshipper of the true God, and a priest and prophet of great reputation; and that he was sent for by Balak from a notion which generally prevailed, that priests and prophets could sometimes, by prayers and sacrifices duly and skilfully applied, obtain favours from God, and that their imprecations were efficacious. He conceives that the prophet had been accustomed to revelations, and that he used to receive them in visions, or in dreams of the night. It cannot be denied that the Scripture expressly calls him a prophet,  2 Peter 2:15 , and therefore those are probably right who think that he had once been a good man and a true prophet, till, loving the wages of unrighteousness, and prostituting the honour of his office to covetousness, he apostatized from God, and, betaking himself to idolatrous practices, fell under the delusion of the devil, of whom he learned all his magical enchantments; though at this juncture, when the preservation of his people was concerned, it might be consistent with God's wisdom to appear to him and overrule his mind by the impulse of real revelations. As to what passed between him and his ass, when that animal was miraculously enabled to speak to its master, commentators are divided in their opinions; whether it really and literally happened as Moses relates it, or whether it be an allegory only, or was the mere imagination or vision of Balaam. But St. Peter evidently mentions it as a fact literally, and certainly occurring: "the dumb ass, speaking with man's voice, when she forbade the madness of the prophet,"  2 Peter 2:16 . This, it is true, has frequently been made the subject of profane banter by those whose skepticism leads them to scoff at all prodigies. But how absurd is it to subject a miraculous event to the ordinary rules of reasoning! "Say what you will of the formation of the tongue and jaws being unfit for speaking," says Bishop Newton, "yet an adequate cause is assigned for this wonderful event; for it is expressly said that ‘the Lord opened the mouth of the ass;' and who that believes a God, can doubt his power to do this and much more? The miracle was by no means needless or superfluous; it was well adapted to convince Balaam that the mouth and tongue were under God's direction, and that the same divine power which caused the dumb ass to speak contrary to its nature, could, in like manner, make him utter blessings contrary to his inclination. And, accordingly, he was overruled to bless the people, though he came prepared and disposed to curse them; which was the greater miracle of the two; for the ass was merely passive, but Balaam resisted the good motions of God." The prophecy which Balaam delivered concerning Israel on this remarkable occasion, and which is contained in  Numbers 24:5-9 , has been greatly admired by critics. Bishop Lowth, in particular, remarks that he knows nothing in the whole scope of the Hebrew poetry more exquisite or perfect. "It abounds," says he, "in splendid imagery, copied immediately from the tablet of nature; and is chiefly conspicuous for the glowing elegance of the style and the form and diversity of the figures."

After his predictions, Balaam returned into his own country; but before he left the land of Moab, as if vexed with his own disappointment in missing the promised reward, and with a purpose of revenging himself on the Israelites, as the cause of it, he instructed the Moabites and Midianites in a wicked scheme, which was to send their daughters into the camp of the Israelites, in order to draw them first into lewdness, and then into idolatry, the certain means of depriving them of the help of that God who protected them. This artifice succeeded; for as the Israelites lay encamped at Shittim, many of them were deluded by these strange women, not only to commit whoredom with them, but to assist at their sacrifices, and worship their god Baal-Peor,  Numbers 25:1-3;  Numbers 31:16;

 Micah 6:5;  2 Peter 2:15;  Judges 1:11;  Revelation 2:14;  Deuteronomy 23:4-5;  Joshua 24:9-10;  Nehemiah 13:2 . God commanded Moses to avenge this crime. He therefore declared war against the Midianites, killed five of their princes, and a great number of other persons without distinction of age or sex, among whom was Balaam himself.

Moses says that Balaam consulted the Lord, and calls the Lord his God: "I

cannot go beyond the commandment of the Lord my God,"  Numbers 22:18 . The reason why Balaam calls Jehovah, "my God" may be, because he was of the posterity of Shem, who maintained the worship of Jehovah, not only in his own person, but among his descendants, so that while the posterity of Ham fell into idolatry, and the posterity of Japhet were settled at a distance in Europe, the Shemites generally, though not universally, retained the worship of God.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [5]

At the time of Israel’s migration to Canaan, the Moabite king Balak, fearing the Israelites, sent to Mesopotamia asking the soothsayer Balaam to come and put a curse on them. Balak hoped that Balaam’s curse would ensure Israel’s defeat ( Numbers 22:1-6). (For the significance of a curse among Israelites and other ancient peoples see Curse .)

God showed Balaam that he was not to go, because Israel was not to be cursed. Despite this, Balaam wanted to go, because he hoped to gain the reward Balak offered. God was angry with Balaam but in the end allowed him to go, in order to teach him some lessons ( Numbers 22:7-20). Only God’s mercy prevented Balaam from being killed along the way ( Numbers 22:21-34).

Balak took Balaam to a place from where he could see the vastness of the Israelite camp. His purpose was to convince Balaam that the Israelites were a serious threat. But God had warned Balaam to speak only the words that God told him to speak. Balaam obeyed, and instead of announcing a curse on Israel he announced a blessing ( Numbers 22:35;  Numbers 22:41;  Numbers 23:1-12).

Disappointed at this result, Balak took Balaam to another place, where he could get a better view and so be persuaded to pronounce a destructive curse. But again Balaam announced a blessing on Israel ( Numbers 23:13-26). A third attempt, from a third place, brought further blessing ( Numbers 23:27;  Numbers 24:1-9). Angrily Balak dismissed Balaam, but in response Balaam announced yet another lengthy blessing on Israel ( Numbers 24:10-25).

However, Balaam too was angry. His failure to curse Israel meant that he did not receive the payment from Balak that he so much wanted. He therefore decided on a plan of his own. This plan had nothing to do with either blessing or cursing, but Balaam hoped it might bring destruction to Israel and so earn Balak’s reward. He used foreign women to seduce Israelite men, and soon the Israelite camp was a scene of widespread immorality and idolatry. When God sent a plague that killed thousands, Balaam must have thought his plan was working, but swift action from the Israelite priest Phinehas saved Israel and brought death to Balaam ( Numbers 25:1-9;  Numbers 31:16;  Joshua 13:22).

The people of Old Testament Israel never forgot the evil of Balaam ( Deuteronomy 23:5;  Joshua 24:9;  Nehemiah 13:2;  Micah 6:5). Even in the New Testament, writers likened false teachers of their time to Balaam. Like Balaam, such teachers were concerned solely with personal gain, even though their teaching was morally and religiously damaging to God’s people ( 2 Peter 2:14-16;  Judges 1:10-11). They encouraged God’s people to join in idolatrous practices and to engage in immoral behaviour ( Revelation 2:14-15). God assured those who followed the way of Balaam that they were heading for destruction, but he promised those who resisted that they would enjoy his special reward ( Revelation 2:15-17; cf.  Numbers 25:10-13).

Holman Bible Dictionary [6]

Old Testament Balaam was one of many prophets of eastern religions who worshiped all the gods of the land. Many of these false teachers had great power and influence. When they pronounced a blessing or a curse, it was considered as true prophecy. When Moses led his people across the wilderness, God commanded him not to attack Edom or Moab ( Deuteronomy 2:4-9 ). He did not. When Edom attacked, “Israel turned away from him” ( Numbers 20:21 ). As the great nation journeyed north on the east side of Jordan, King Balak of Moab faced the invasion of Israel. Balak sought a strategy other than battle to stop Moses. He decided to use a prophet to curse Israel. Balaam was chosen. Balak sent his messengers with fees to secure Balaam's services. Balaam asked God's permission to curse Israel. Permission was refused, but Balaam journeyed to confer further with Balak. On this journey, Balaam's donkey talked with him as he traveled a narrow trail ( Numbers 22:21-30;  2 Peter 2:16 ). Here Balaam clearly understood that an angel's drawn sword enforced his obedience to speak only God's message to Balak. Later in four vivid messages Balaam insisted that God would bless Israel ( Numbers 23-24 ). God used Balaam to preach truth. He even spoke of a future star and scepter ( Numbers 24:17 ) a prophecy ultimately fulfilled in the coming of Jesus as the Messiah. Balak's actions brought God's anger upon Moab ( Deuteronomy 23:3-6 ). In a battle against the Midianites, Balaam died ( Numbers 31:8;  Joshua 13:22 ). Balaam could not curse Israel, but he taught the Moabites to bring the men of Israel into Baal worship with its immorality. For this God would punish Israel. What Balaam could not accomplish with a curse he did so through seductive means.

New Testament Peter warned against false teachers and described their destruction. He referred to the fallen angels, the watery destruction of the unbelievers in Noah's time, and the fiery judgment on lawless Sodom and Gomorrah in Lot's day. Peter described his generation of false leaders as those with eyes full of adultery, who never stop sinning by seducing the unstable. He further said that they bore a curse as experts in greed. Peter wrote that they left the straight way and followed the way of Balaam ( 2 Peter 2:15 ). In  Revelation 2:14 , the church at Pergamos was complimented for faithfulness under persecution, but also warned that some followed after Balaam in offering meat to idols and in immorality. Balaam was a money hungry false prophet who had a close encounter with the God of Israel, but not close enough. God is sovereign and did not allow Balaam to curse His people. As God wills, He changes curses into blessings.

Lawson Hatfield

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [7]

A celebrated diviner, of the city Pethor, on the Euphrates,  Numbers 22:5 . Balak, king of Moab, having seen the multitudes of Israel, and fearing they would attack his country, sent for Balaam, who was famous for his supposed supernatural powers, to come and curse them. Balaam, though eager for gain, was led to ask counsel of God, who forbade his going. Balak afterwards sent other deputies, whom Balaam finally accompanied without the approval of God, who sent an angel to meet and warn him in the way. Here occurred the miracle of Balaam's ass,  Numbers 22:22,35 . But instead of cursing, he was constrained by the Spirit of God to bless the children of Israel. This he did a second and a third time, to the extreme mortification of Balak, who dismissed him in great anger. Balaam subsequently foretold what Israel should in future times do to the nations round about; and after having advised Balak to engage Israel in idolatry and whoredom, that they might offend God and be forsaken by him, quitted his territories for his own land. This bad counsel was pursued; the young women of Moab inveigled the Hebrews to the impure and idolatrous worship of Baal-Peor, for which 24,000 Israelites were slain,  Numbers 25:1-9   31:16   2 Peter 2:15   Jude 1:11   Revelation 2:14 .

Balaam was probably a descendant of Shem, and possessed many just ideas of the true God. He calls Him "the Lord my God,"  Numbers 22:18; and yet he seems to have been only an enchanter and false prophet, like many in the times of the kings of Israel, until he came in collision with the people of God. In this transaction he was made a bearer, against his own will, of the sublime messages of Jehovah; yet his heart remained unchanged, and he did not "the death of the righteous,"  Numbers 31:8   Joshua 13:22 .

People's Dictionary of the Bible [8]

Balaam ( Bâ'Lam, or Bâ'La-Am ), Not Of The People, I.E., A Foreigner. The son of Beor or Bosor, and a native of Pethor, on the Euphrates.  Numbers 22:5. Evidently he was an unrighteous man, but was selected for a special mission, as in some other cases. See  1 Samuel 10:10;  1 Kings 13:18-20;  Matthew 7:22;  John 11:51. He had the reputation of a famous diviner. When the Hebrews were journeying to Canaan, Balak king of Moab, sent for Balaam, to curse the Hebrew armies. Balaam ultimately accepted the tempting offer, and returned with the messengers to Moab. On his way he was miraculously informed that his course was wicked and perverse; and he was effectually restrained by the beast on which he rode from doing what Balak had sent for him to do. So far from cursing, he was led to pronounce a prophetic blessing on the Hebrews, in language which, for eloquence and force, is hardly surpassed in the whole range of Hebrew poetry. Balaam, however, seems to have suggested to Balak a much more certain method of destroying them. This was by causing the young women of Moab to inveigle the Hebrews into the impure and idolatrous worship of Baal-Peor. The stratagem was successful, and 24,000 Hebrews were slain.  Numbers 31:16;  2 Peter 2:15;  Judges 1:11;  Revelation 2:14. Balaam himself fell shortly afterwards in an engagement between the Hebrews and the Midianites.  Numbers 31:8;  Joshua 13:22.

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [9]

The somewhat prominent place that Balaam holds in the Apostolic Age may be appraised by the three references to him in the NT ( 2 Peter 2:15,  Judges 1:11, and  Revelation 2:14); by the legends which grew round his name in Hellenistic and Haggadic literature, and later in Muhammadanism; and perhaps by the apparent popularity of the discussion of the ‘Blessings of Balaam’ by Hippolytus. Balaam has become the representative of false teachers and sorcerers, and we may suspect a play on his name in  Revelation 2:14 (perhaps = ‘lord of the people’), in order to brand certain Gnostic teachers as making gain for themselves out of the simple folk by the use of magic and by the teaching of a gnosis which tended to laxity of practice. (It is not improbable that in the Nicodemus of John 3 is enshrined a counter-play of words-the Jewish party also, it is hinted, had a false and carnal doctrine of their own.) Balaam becomes in legend a counsellor of Pharaoh; he and his two sons Jannes and Jambres ( q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ) were compelled to flee from Egypt to Ethiopia, where Balaam reigned as king till conquered by Moses. On this he and his sons returned to Egypt and became the master-magicians who opposed Moses. Finally, Phinehas attacked Balaam, who by his magic flew into the air, but was killed by Phinehas in the power of the Holy Name. See Nicolaitans; also Jewish Encyclopedia ii. 468f.

W. F. Cobb.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [10]

A Midianite prophet who resided at Pethor, son of Beor or Bosor. He was hired by Balak king of Moab to curse Israel, but God compelled him to bless instead of curse His chosen people. Though he talked piously his heart was evidently set on getting the reward from Balak.  Jude 11 . The angel of Jehovah withstood him, and he was rebuked by his ass, yet he was allowed to go on his way.  Numbers 22,23,24;  Deuteronomy 23:4,5;  Joshua 24:9,10 . Though compelled by God to bless Israel, he most treacherously counselled Balak to seduce them by means of the Midianitish women,  Numbers 31:16;  2 Peter 2:15;  Revelation 2:14 , which led to their gross idolatry.  Numbers 25:1,2 : see Baal-Peor After Israel was punished for their sin, they were avenged on Moab, and among the slain was Balaam. In  Joshua 13:22 he is called a soothsayer, and when he was with Balak he sought enchantments. In   Numbers 23:15 the words 'the LORD' are added by the translators.   Numbers 24:1 says that he went not then as at other times to meet enchantments. But he was overpowered by God. In the passages in the N.T. he is held up as an example of consummate wickedness and apostasy.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [11]

Ba'laam. (B.C. 1451). The son of Beor, a man endowed with the gift of prophecy.  Numbers 22:5. He is mentioned in conjunction with the five kings of Midian, apparently as a person of the same rank.  Numbers 31:8. Compare  Numbers 31:16. He seems to have lived at Pethor,  Deuteronomy 23:4;  Numbers 22:5, on the river Euphrates, in Mesopotamia. Such was his reputation that, when the Israelites were encamped in the plains of Moab, Balak, the king of Moab, sent for Balaam to curse them.

Balaam, at first, was prohibited by God from going. He was again sent for by the king and again refused, but was, at length, allowed to go. He yielded to the temptations of riches and honor which Balak set before him; but God's anger was kindled at this manifestation of determined self-will, and the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him. See  2 Peter 2:16.

Balaam predicted a magnificent career for the people whom he was called to curse, but he, nevertheless, suggested to the Moabites, the expedient of seducing them to commit fornication. The effect of this is recorded in  Numbers 25:1. A battle was afterwards fought against the Midianites, in which Balaam sided with them, and was slain by the sword of the people whom he had endeavored to curse.  Numbers 31:8.

Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types [12]

 2 Peter 2:15 (b) This man is typical of one who claims to be a servant of GOD and is sometimes used of GOD, but for the sake of permanence and prosperity is willing to lead his flock astray and to invite worldliness to come in among the members.

 Judges 1:11 (b) The meaning is somewhat the same as mentioned above. Balaam was willing to go wrong and do wrong so long as he received ample payment for his services. This is typical of modern-day preachers who will promote and permit wicked, worldly things and who will teach error because of the pay they receive from those who like to hear them. Read  Numbers 22,23.

 Revelation 2:14 (b) Here we see a type of those in the church who invite unsaved men of the world to bring in their ideas and to lead the church to engage in things which are not according to the Scriptures, and which are quite opposed to the will of GOD.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [13]

 Numbers 31:8 Deuteronomy 23:4 Numbers 23:7 2 Peter 2:15,16 Micah 6:5  Numbers 25 Numbers 31:8

The "doctrine of Balaam" is spoken of in  Revelation 2:14 , in allusion to the fact that it was through the teaching of Balaam that Balak learned the way by which the Israelites might be led into sin. (See Nicolaitanes .) Balaam was constrained to utter prophecies regarding the future of Israel of wonderful magnificence and beauty of expression (  Numbers 24:5-9,17 ).

Webster's Dictionary [14]

(n.) A paragraph describing something wonderful, used to fill out a newspaper column; - an allusion to the miracle of Balaam's ass speaking.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [15]

bā´lam ( בּלעם , bil‛ām , "devourer"): The son of Beor, from a city in Mesopotamia called Pethor, a man possessing the gift of prophecy, whose remarkable history may be found in Nu 22:2 through 24:25; compare  Numbers 31:8 ,  Numbers 31:16;  Deuteronomy 23:4;  Joshua 13:22;  Joshua 24:9;  Nehemiah 13:2;  Micah 6:5;  2 Peter 2:15;  Judges 1:11;  Revelation 2:14 .

1. History

When the children of Israel pitched their tents in the plains of Moab, the Moabites entered into some sort of an alliance with the Midianites. At the instigation of Balak, at that time king of the Moabites, the elders of the two nations were sent to Balaam to induce him, by means of a bribe, to pronounce a curse on the advancing hosts of the Israelites. But, in compliance with God's command Balaam, refused to go with the elders. Quite different was the result of a second request enhanced by the higher rank of the messengers and by the more alluring promises on the part of Balak. Not only did God permit Balaam to go with the men, but he actually commanded him to do so, cautioning him, however, to act according to further instructions. While on his way to Balak, this injunction was strongly impressed on the mind of Balaam by the strange behavior of his ass and by his encounter with the Angel of the Lord.

Accompanied by Balak who had gone out to meet the prophet, Balaam came to Kiriath-huzoth. On the next morning he was brought up "into the high places of Baal" commanding a partial view of the camp of the Israelites. But instead of a curse he pronounced a blessing. From there he was taken to the top of Peor, yet this change of places and external views did not alter the tendency of Balaam's parables; in fact, his spirit even soared to greater heights and from his lips fell glowing words of praise and admiration, of benediction and glorious prophecy. This, of course, fully convinced Balak that all further endeavors to persuade the seer to comply with his wishes would be in vain, and the two parted.

Nothing else is said of Balaam, until we reach Nu 31. Here in  Numbers 31:8 we are told of his violent death at the hands of the Israelites, and in   Numbers 31:16 we learn of his shameful counsel which brought disgrace and disaster into the ranks of the chosen people.

2. Problems

Now, there are a number of interesting problems connected with this remarkable story. We shall try to solve at least some of the more important ones.

(1) Was Balaam a prophet of Jeh? For an answer we must look to Nu 22 through 24. Nowhere is he called a prophet. He is introduced as the son of Beor and as a man reputed to be of great personal power (compare  Numbers 22:6 ). The cause of this is to be found in the fact that he had intercourse of some kind with God (compare  Numbers 22:9 ,  Numbers 22:20;  Numbers 22:22-35;  Numbers 23:4;  Numbers 23:16 ). Furthermore, it is interesting to note how Balaam was enabled to deliver his parables. First it is said: "And Yahweh put a word in Balaam's mouth" ( Numbers 23:5; compare  Numbers 23:16 ), a procedure seemingly rather mechanical, while nothing of the kind is mentioned in Nu 24. Instead we meet with the remarkable sentence: "And when Balaam saw that it pleased Yahweh to bless Israel, he went not, as at the other times, to meet with enchantments ..." ( Numbers 24:1 ), and then: "the Spirit of God came upon him" (  Numbers 24:2 ). All this is very noteworthy and highly instructive, especially if we compare with it  Numbers 24:3 the Revised Version, margin and   Numbers 24:4 : "The man whose eye is opened saith; he saith, who heareth the words of God, who seeth the vision of the Almighty," etc. The inference is plain enough: Balaam knew the Lord, the Yahweh of the Israelites, but his knowledge was dimmed and corrupted by heathen conceptions. He knew enough of God to obey Him, yet for a long time he hoped to win Him over to his own selfish plan (compare   Numbers 23:4 ). Through liberal sacrifices he expected to influence God's actions. Bearing this in mind, we see the import of  Numbers 24:1 . After fruitless efforts to cajole God into an attitude favorable to his hidden purpose, he for a time became a prophet of the Lord, yielding to the ennobling influences of His spirit. Here was a chance for his better nature to assert itself permanently and to triumph over the dark forces of paganism. Did he improve this opportunity? He did not (compare  Numbers 31:8 ,  Numbers 31:16 ).

(2) Is the Balaam of Nu 22 through 24 identical with the person of the same name mentioned in Nu 31? Quite a number of scholars deny it, or, to be more accurate, there are according to their theory two accounts of Balaam: the one in Nu 22 through 24 being favorable to his character, and the other in Nu 31 being quite the reverse. It is claimed the two accounts could only be made to agree by modifying or eliminating  Numbers 24:25 . Now, we believe that  Numbers 31:16 actually does modify the report of Balaam's return contained in   Numbers 24:25 . The children of Israel slew Balaam with the sword ( Numbers 31:8 ). Why? Because of his counsel of  Numbers 31:16 . We maintain that the author of  Numbers 24:25 had this fact in mind when he wrote   Numbers 25:1 : "And ... the people began to play the harlot," etc. Thus, he closely connects the report of Balaam's return with the narrative contained in   Numbers 9:5 . Therefore, we regard  Numbers 31:8 ,  Numbers 31:16 as supplementary to Nu 22 through 24. But here is another question:

(3) Is the narrative in Nu 22 through 24 the result of combining different traditions? In a general way, we may answer this question in the affirmative, and only in a general way we can distinguish between two main sources of tradition. But we maintain that they are not contradictory to each other, but supplementary.

(4) What about the talking of the ass and the marvelous prophecies of Balaam? We would suggest the following explanation. By influencing the soul of Balaam, God caused him to interpret correctly the inarticulate sounds of the animal. God's acting on the soul and through it on the intellect and on the hearts of men - this truth must be also applied to Balaam's wonderful prophetic words. They are called meshālı̄m or sayings of a prophet, a diviner.

In the first of these "parables" ( Numbers 23:7-10 ) he briefly states his reasons for pronouncing a blessing; in the second parable ( Numbers 23:18-24 ) he again emphasizes the fact that he cannot do otherwise than bless the Israelites, and then he proceeds to pronounce the blessing at some greater length. In the 3rd ( Numbers 24:3-9 ) he describes the glorious state of the people, its development and irresistible power. In the last four parables ( Numbers 24:15-24 ) he partly reveals the future of Israel and other nations: they are all to be destroyed, Israel's fate being included in the allusion to Eber. Now, at last, Balaam is back again in his own sphere denouncing others and predicting awful disasters. (On the "star out of Jacob,"  Numbers 24:17 , see Astronomy , ii, 9; Star Of The Magi .)

3. Balaam's Character

This may furnish us a clue to his character. It, indeed, remains "instructively composite." A soothsayer who might have become a prophet of the Lord; a man who loved the wages of unrighteousness, and yet a man who in one supreme moment of his life surrendered himself to God's holy Spirit; a person cumbered with superstition, covetousness and even wickedness, and yet capable of performing the highest service in the kingdom of God: such is the character of Balaam, the remarkable Old Testament type and, in a sense, the prototype of Judas Iscariot.

4. Balaam as a Type

In  2 Peter 2:15 Balaam's example is used as a means to illustrate the pernicious influence of insincere Christian teachers. The author might have alluded to Balaam in the passage immediately preceding   2 Peter 2:15 because of his abominable counsel. This is done in   Revelation 2:14 . Here, of course, Balaam is the type of a teacher of the church who attempts to advance the cause of God by advocating an unholy alliance with the ungodly and worldly, and so conforming the life of the church to the spirit of the flesh.

Literature

Butler's Sermons , "Balaam"; ICC , "Numbers."

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [16]

Ba´laam is supposed by some to mean lord of the people; but by others destruction of the people—an allusion to his supposed supernatural powers. The first mention of this remarkable person is in  Numbers 22:5, where we are informed that Balak 'sent messengers unto Balaam the son of Beor to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people.' Of the numerous paradoxes which we find in 'this strange mixture of a man,' as Bishop Newton terms him, not the least striking is that with the practice of an art expressly forbidden to the Israelites ( Deuteronomy 18:10), he united the knowledge and worship of Jehovah, and was in the habit of receiving intimations of his will ( Numbers 22:8). The inquiry naturally arises, by what means did he become acquainted with the true religion? Dr. Hengstenberg suggests that he was led to renounce idolatry by the reports that reached him of the miracles attending the Exodus; and that having experienced the deceptive nature of the soothsaying art, he hoped by becoming a worshipper of the God of the Hebrews, to acquire fresh power over nature, and a clearer insight into futurity. Yet the sacred narrative gives us no reason to suppose that he had any previous knowledge of the Israelites. In  Numbers 22:11, he merely repeats Balak's message, 'Behold there is a people come out of Egypt,' etc. without intimating that he had heard of the miracles wrought on their behalf. The allusion in  Numbers 23:22 might be prompted by the Divine afflatus which he then felt. And had he been actuated, in the first instance, by motives of personal aggrandizement, it seems hardly probable that he would have been favored with those divine communications with which his language in  Numbers 22:8 implies a familiarity. Since, in the case of Simon Magus the offer to 'purchase the gift of God with money' ( Acts 8:20) called forth an immediate and awful rebuke from the Apostles, would not Balaam's attempt to obtain a similar gift with a direct view to personal emolument and fame have met with a similar repulse? In the absence of more copious and precise information, may we not reasonably conjecture that Jacob's residence for twenty years in Mesopotamia contributed to maintain some just ideas of religion, though mingled with much superstition? To this source and the existing remains of Patriarchal religion, Balaam was probably indebted for that truth which he unhappily 'held in unrighteousness' ( Romans 1:18).

On the narrative contained in  Numbers 22:22-35 a difference of opinion has long existed, even among those who fully admit its authenticity. The advocates for a literal interpretation urge, that in a historical work and a narrative bearing the same character, it would be unnatural to regard any of the occurrences as taking place in vision, unless expressly so stated—that it would be difficult to determine where the vision begins, and where it ends—that Jehovah's 'opening the mouth of the ass' ( Numbers 22:28) must have been an external act; and, finally, that Peter's language is decidedly in favor of the literal sense—'The dumb ass, speaking with a man's voice, reproved the madness of the Prophet' ( 2 Peter 2:16). Those who conceive that the speaking of the ass and the appearance of the Angel occurred in vision to Balaam insist upon the fact that dreams and visions were the ordinary methods by which God made himself known to the Prophets ( Numbers 12:6); they remark that Balaam, in the introduction to his third and fourth prophecies ( Numbers 24:3-4;  Numbers 24:15), speaks of himself as 'the man who had his eyes shut ( Lamentations 3:8), and who, on falling down in prophetic ecstasy, had his eyes opened—that he expressed no surprise on hearing the ass speak; and that neither his servants nor the Moabitish princes who accompanied him appear to have been cognizant of any supernatural appearance.

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